Church Planting in Early Baptist History (Part 3) Submitted by Prof. Renihan

The impetus for these actions was theological, embedded in the general Confessions published by the churches. The first London Confession (1644) states,

Christ hath heer on earth a spirituall Kingdome, which is the Church, which He hath purchased and redeemed to himselfe, as a peculiar inheritance: which Church, as it is visible to us, is a company of visible Saints, called & separated from the world, by the word and Spirit of God, to the visible profession of faith of the Gospel, being baptized into that faith, and joyned to the Lord, and each other, by mutual agreement, in the practical injoyment of the Ordinances, commanded by Christ their head and King.[1]

It should be noticed that the church consists of believers, brought out of the world to faith in Christ by means of gospel preaching, baptized, and united together to enjoy the ordinances given by Christ.  This definition of the church is dependent upon earlier statements in the Confession describing the process and fruit of conversion:

Faith is ordinarily begot by the preaching of the Gospel, or word of Christ, without respect to any power or capacitie in the creature; but it being wholly passive, and dead in sinnes and trespasses, doth beleeve, and is converted by no lesse power, then that which raised Christ from the dead.

That the tenders of the Gospel to the conversion of sinners, is absolutely free, no way requiring, as absolutely necessary, any qualifications, preparations, terrors of the law, or preceding ministry of the Law, but onely and alone the naked soule, as a sinner and ungodly to receive Christ, as crucified, dead, and buried, and risen againe, being made a Prince and a Savior for such sinners.

The same power that converts to faith in Christ, carries on the soule through all duties, temptations, conflicts, sufferings . . . .

All beleevers are a holy and sanctified people, and that sanctification is a spirituall grace of the new Covenant, and effect of the love of God, manifested to the soule, whereby the beleever . . . presseth after a heavenly and Evangelicall perfection, in  obedience to all the Commands, which Christ as head and King in His new Covenant has prescribed to them.[2]

The Baptists confessed that saving faith produced evangelical obedience, and this obedience was to be worked out in a gospel church.  Dead sinners are brought to life through the power of Christ attending the preached word, and the resulting believers, sanctified by the grace of the new covenant, give themselves to “obedience to all the Commands.”  The context for this obedience is the local church.  This theological progression is unavoidable in the Confession.  Churches are the result of Gospel preaching.  Their evangelism was not merely “soul-winning” but rather a full-orbed attempt to see churches planted according to the Word of God.

The Second London Confession is no different in its emphases.  The following words, found in paragraphs five and six of chapter 26 teach the same doctrine:

In the execution of this power wherewith he is so intrusted, the Lord Jesus calleth out of the World unto himself, through the Ministry of his word, by his Spirit, those that are given unto him by his Father; that they may walk before him in all the ways of obedience, which he prescribeth to them in his Word. Those thus called he commandeth to walk together in particular societies, or Churches, for their mutual edification; and the due performance of that publick worship, which he requireth of them in the World.

The Members of these Churches are Saints by calling, visibly manifesting and evidencing (in and by their profession and walking) their obedience unto that call of Christ; and do willingly consent to walk together according to the appointment of Christ, giving up themselves, to the Lord & one to another by the will of God, in professed subjection to the Ordinances of the Gospel.[3]

Christ calls sinners to himself, commanding them to be part of churches in which they demonstrate their obedience to his will.  These men could not conceive of evangelism divorced from churches.  The theology of evangelism itself required that converts be added to existing churches, or formed into new churches for the glory of God.  Nothing less would fit the case.

In order to account for the remarkable growth present among the Particular Baptists, one must remember this fact.  Evangelism is at the heart of the doctrine of the church.  New assemblies are planted as men and women are brought to faith in Christ.  In these Confessions, practical theology is the necessary concomitant to ecclesiology.  Doctrinal formulations are not merely theoretical constructions.  They have very important implications and applications for life and ministry.

Historic Baptist theology brought together theology and practice.  In the best puritan fashion, it was recognized that what we believe must influence what we practice, and that what we practice must rest on the theological truths we confess.  These men and their churches sought to be faithful to that principle.  As we strive to preach the whole counsel of God, and apply the principles of reformation in our churches, we must take hold of this perspective.  Church planting ought to be at the very forefront of our agenda.  In Particular Baptist Ecclesiology, the church was fundamentally the result of the personal and sovereign activity of Christ in calling sinners out of the world to salvation.  From its roots in the New Testament, it was intended to be a holy community, separate from the world and focused on heaven.  But, so important was the planting of churches that programs were established to promote their increase.  Funds were raised, men were ordained and sent, and new congregations were organized.  Does our theology of the church inform our evangelism?  What more can we do?

[1] William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1969), 165.

[2]Ibid., 163-64.

[3]A Confession of Faith: Put Forth by the Elders and Brethren of Many Congregations of Christians (London: Benjamin Harris, 1677), 87-88.  While usually referred to as the 1689 Confession, it was originally published in 1677.